This Saturday, CCM presents a unique multimedia production of Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust. CCM E-Media faculty member Raul Barcelona recently discussed his work on the project with CCM Public Information Assistant and Arts Administration student Lillian Matchett.
Lillian Matchett: Could you give me a little background about your work at CCM?
Raul Barcelona: I’ve been here now for almost two years. My role here is Assistant Professor of Electronic Media, and I specifically teach new media and video production classes. My main focus is film making, but in the past I have also worked as a web designer and graphics designer, so I am also teaching some of those new media courses as well.
LM: Could you tell me a little about how you originally got involved with the production of The Damnation of Faust?
RB: Earl Rivers [CCM’s Director of Choral Studies and conductor] approached me to see if I would be interested in developing some visuals for the performance. He had this idea that it’s a work that is very cinematic in nature, even just by itself, and he thought that it would be a good opportunity to collaborate so that the music is accompanied with visuals.
LM: What was your original inspiration for the visuals we’ll see on Saturday?
RB: My main inspiration comes from this news article I read a couple of years ago about migrating birds that would go through American cities and crash to their deaths against sky scrapers. These birds get confused because they think of these skyscraper lights as stars that they use to navigate. So I was reading this article and became very aware of urban wildlife; that is animals that thrive, and live and lead lives within these concrete canyons, so to speak.
I became fascinated with the fact that these animals have a different kind of survival experience than we do—we go to work, we get a paycheck so that we can survive, whereas these animals live in the same environment, but with a different existence. I started focusing on filming these red-tailed hawks that live in New York, so a lot of the inspiration for the visuals I’ve created comes from that theme of nature versus human progress, wildlife in a modern city.
LM: Could you tell me a little bit about special techniques or effects that you are using, if any?
RB: Originally I wanted to experiment with this method of editing images where you take the sound wave of the music and you can have the rhythm of the visuals respond to that. However, the images that would come out of that were very processed and heavily manipulated. One of my goals is to create these images that will allow the audience to contemplate and meditate on certain themes as they are listening to the music, and because the images that were coming out were so processed and manipulated, I feared that people would pay more attention to the technique rather than the content.
So then I went the opposite way, and only produced images that I had filmed and could capture that way, rather than trying to manipulate them. Because a lot of the theme is nature, I felt that I wanted to capture things the way that I see them in the real world. In terms of effects, mostly what I ended up using were very basic thing, such as slowing the motion or speeding the motion to emphasize certain details. For example, the flight of the hawk is very beautiful, but they move very fast. Since the poetry in the movement of their wings doesn’t come across as well at normal speed, I slowed it down. At other times, to show the insane pace of modern life—rush hour traffic, for instance—I sped it up.
All the footage that you see is actually shot in real life, but the perspective might be different. There’s some really abstract-looking footage, for instance, that looks like it could be some weird-looking cosmic matter, but what you are looking at is actually a chemical experiment with milk, food dye and dishwashing soap that blend, swirl and mix together in very beautiful ways. But when you zoom in very close then blow it up, you have no idea what you are looking at. So most of the effects are like that, where I try not to use a computer to generate them, but they can still look very abstract.
There is one shot that is of a street light in the middle of the night, and it’s shot with very low shutter speed. When you zoom in very close on the bulb of the street lamp it looks like these wavy lines, and you don’t know that you are looking at something so tangible. I could create those effects on the computer and it would be an easier, more automated way of doing it, but, again, the theme is capturing things the way they are in the world.
LM: That’s very interesting. So then how do you use those themes and tie them into the Damnation of Faust?
RB: One of the things I didn’t want to do was create a literal story of Faust, so not a staging. What I wanted to do was more a poetic construction of images that some times seem to line up well with the story, but at other times you are not quite sure if it does. I like that gap between the visuals and the music because it allows the audience to step in and create associations of their own. When the music matches perfectly what you’re seeing, you don’t have to think about it because the connection is already made for you. I instead like it when there is that area to contemplate and be creative in the moment when you are absorbing the performance.
But the way that these different themes play out does have to do with the music, and in some places more than others. For instance, there is a theme where Faust and Marguerite are talking about their love for each other and they end up consummating their relationship at the end of that scene. During that part, the visual is of a couple of red-tailed hawks during the mating season flying around together. So in that part the music and the visuals do line up very well.
My goal was to break away from a narrative: to not become a slave to the story, but to still illustrate the story, and let the audience create their own conclusions.
LM: With the performance coming up this weekend, have you had any new insights now that it’s almost here?
RB: Yesterday we watched the rehearsal with the visuals for the first time, and it was very interesting to see and make connections that I hadn’t even realized before. For example, some things that weren’t intentional from the get-go end up being perfectly matched and the music drew out new themes.
Barcelona also discussed the production with the Enquirer‘s Janelle Gelfand. You can read the interview here.
CCM presents Hector Berlioz’s The Damnation of Faust (La Damnation de Faust), Op. 24 at 8 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 25 in Corbett Auditorium. Tickets are $12 general admission, $5 non-UC students and free for UC students. Tickets can be purchased by visiting the Box Office or calling 513-556-4183. You can learn more about the production here.
CCM Season Presenting Sponsor: The Otto M. Budig Family Foundation